Jon Dawson: Jenny Lind, Billie Jean and The Voice

Photo by Jon Dawson / The Bucklesberry Gazette

Many of you may be familiar with the photographs of Woody Spencer. If not, look him up on Facebook and you’ll be treated to volumes of great local images.

Thinking it would be great fodder for photography, on Saturday I gave Woody a little tour of Bucklesberry. Nestled between Kinston and La Grange and so far off the grid that Google Maps thinks it’s a flavor of ice cream, Bucklesberry is a photographer’s dream. Whether it’s the acres of farm land sprinkled with WWII-era barns or the spot on State Road 8745 where yours truly first slammed on brakes to avoid running over a chicken, Bucklesberry is a feast for the eyes.

One of the more historically significant spots within the Bucklesberry kingdom is the Jenny Lind community. According to legend, this area got its name after Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind sang to a group of locals under a tree. In her day, Jenny Lind was one of the most popular entertainers in the world.

Born in 1820, Lind possessed a beautiful voice and was known as the “Swedish Nightingale.” Multiple articles written on the subject claim Hans Christian Anderson wrote “The Ugly Duckling” as a result of his unsuccessful courtship of Jenny Lind. In 1850 P.T. Barnum brought Lind to the United States for a tour, which explains why she was in North Carolina at the time.

The version of the story I heard as a child puts Lind in our neck of the woods due to a broken down train or possibly stagecoach. How much time Lind spent in Bucklesberry has never been substantiated — although multiple sources clearly state one rube yelling out a request for “Free Bird” during her performance.

My own personal connection to Jenny Lind revolves around Jenny Lind Store. I believe there have been two stores on alternate sides of the road, but the one I frequented in my bicycle days is still standing and has been in a state of refurbishment for years.

Jenny Lind Store was a pre-Walmart oasis to anyone looking for a Nab and a Pepsi. Before people knew they could drop their rent money on $6 cups of bean juice in a Starbucks, farmers would sit around on propped wooden chairs and talk about rain or the lack thereof. For a dime, kids on bicycles (my crew) could get half a gallon of sugar water known as Jungle Juice. I’m not sure how it was economically possible, but somehow Jungle Juice was cheaper than water. It’s almost as if Jungle Juice was evidence the government needed our help to dispose of.

A tractor once ran out of gas and in desperation I poured a cup of Jungle Juice in the tank. Not only did the tractor crank, but it’s been idling non-stop since 1985. They’ve removed the battery but it just keeps running.

The Bryan Hanks Show airs on 960-AM in Kinston, and 960TheBull.com daily at 7 a.m. & 3 p.m. It also airs on the suite of 252ESPN.com stations in New Bern and Greenville (107.5-FM) at 6 p.m.

Another pastime that revolved around Jenny Lind Store was running in to grab a bottle of Coca-Cola while hauling a load of tobacco from the field to the barn. To pull this off meant hanging the load in the barn at double speed to ensure you’d return to the field before the trailer was full again. If by some chance the load was disposed of in record time, that then meant you’d need to drink a full (glass) bottle of Coke in 16 seconds. Drinking that much carbonated soda in such a short amount of time usually produced some sort of dyspeptic episode. After one such episode my coworker Kevin Morgan was able to belch the song “Billie Jean” in its entirety.

Jenny Lind and her amazing voice went on to inspire a beloved children’s story, the name of a community and provide a conduit for a belched version of a 1980s pop classic. Who knows what will unfold in the next chapter of the Jenny Lind story. Will Kevin Morgan burp his way onto The Voice? Will the store reopen? Will the new owner’s honor my 38 cents in store credit that I earned in 1987 as a result of a honey bun that was sold one day out of date? Stay tuned.

Jon Dawson’s books available at www.jondawson.com.

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